By Sophia Goodwin-Rice
When the Arab Spring began in March 2011, everyone was watching. News outlets across the globe kept the rest of the world up to speed as confusion grew, uprisings swelled and bullets began to fly. We watched as a bloody civil war broke out in Syria, cringed as the government killed thousands of its own people with chemical weapons and we engaged in heated debates as refugees fled to Europe and eventually across the Atlantic, looking frantically for safe places to stay. Over time, the world’s focus shifted, towards the myriad other problems facing humanity: politics, economic downfall and terrorism, to name a few. Except for the occasional photo of a war-battered child that pops into our Facebook feeds, people seem to have forgotten about the Syrian conflict. For all intents and purposes, it might as well not exist anymore in the eyes of American media.
Except that it does. The war has now raged for seven years, killing half a million people and displacing millions more. Only last week, bombings killed 500 more civilians, leaving survivors to seek shelter in cramped underground basement spaces. It was only then that the United Nations called for a 30-day ceasefire, which took days to finally pass due to Russia’s hesitation to join in the agreement. However, as of this past weekend, bombs have continued to fall, targeting hospitals and other civilian-heavy areas and making the situation in Syria humanity’s worst nightmare.
To put it into Western terms, it’s like that part in the Hunger Games when the Capitol bombs a hospital and hundreds of children die. It’s like when the rebels blow up medic forces in order while trying to target the government. Those books, read and worshipped by middle school children across the United States, were meant to be cautionary tales, spooky tales of North America’s post-apocalyptic future. We say that we’d do anything to stop that future from becoming reality, but while we weren’t looking, it already did.
It isn’t that the war in Syria is the financial responsibility of the West, or even directly the political responsibility. However, when it comes to humanitarian causes, there should be no question of the rest of the world giving aid, security, or at the very least, attention. As Americans, we credit French aid to our eventual winning of the Revolutionary War, and ourselves to the Allies’ victory in both world wars. The Syrian conflict may be more confusing — with terrorists, rebels, governmental forces and other nations all playing destructive roles — but the United States can find ways to help without putting troops on the ground or planes in the air. We can take refugees, donate money to aid organizations and keep our own people aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. We can be present, rather than being detached and letting Syria’s own civilians fight to protect themselves.
At the same time, individual countries shouldn’t have to be alone in giving support. In its 73 years of existence, the United Nations has deployed relatively few Peacekeeping missions in proportion to the towering numbers of humanitarian crises that plague the world, and missions don’t usually begin until after significant amounts of destruction have already occurred. In a way, it makes sense that the United Nations has a hard time coming to resolutions and taking actions — imagine a heavily partisan United States Congress but on a global scale and with all sorts of nations with differing interests and internal conflicts of their own. It doesn’t take much (in this case, Russia initially refusing to support the cease-fire) for an action to not be taken, rendering the United Nations effectively useless in situations such as the one in Syria. How can we justify thousands of people dying, millions of children knowing only a life of bloodshed and a warzone described as ‘hell on Earth’? How is it not our first instinct to do everything in our power to help?
Maybe we don’t have the means to give everything we have and stop the war once and for all. But the least we can do is pay attention, replacing news stories of celebrity gossip with real-life news and maybe eventually gain enough support and resources to give Syria the humanitarian attention it deserves.